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S. Korea reiterates North Korean restaurant workers defected voluntarily

2018/07/11 11:34

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SEOUL, July 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reiterated Wednesday that there was no coercion in the process of the defection of North Korean female restaurant workers in 2016.

On Tuesday, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, called for an investigation into allegations that some of them unknowingly came here.

"I understand that the workers came to the South of their own free will," Baik Tae-hyun, unification ministry spokesman, told reporters during a regular press briefing. "I have nothing more to say about that."

   The spokesman declined to elaborate, saying that there is a limit in sharing relevant information as those women remain reluctant to have details disclosed due to concerns that the safety of their families in the North could be jeopardized.

In April 2016, 12 North Korean women working at a restaurant in China defected to the South. Seoul has claimed that all of them came here voluntarily but Pyongyang has demanded their return, saying they were abducted by South Korean intelligence.

Controversy flared up anew in May when a local cable broadcaster aired an interview with the restaurant manager who brought the workers to the South, in which he said that he tricked them to defect and that South Korea's spy agency was involved in the process.

The prosecution is currently conducting an investigation into the allegations.

On Tuesday, Quintana told reporters in Seoul that some of the North Korean workers might not have known they were coming to the South, calling for a "thorough" and "independent" investigation.

Quintana's conclusions were based on his meetings with some of the defectors during a week-long trip to Seoul.

"It is clear that there were some shortcomings in regards to how they were brought to South Korea," he said. "From the information I received from some of them, they were taken to the Republic of Korea without knowing they were coming here."

   kokobj@yna.co.kr

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